Days before the world's attention turns to Russia for the launch of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, conservative website Breitbart.com touted Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for "Christian values," citing the country's ban on "homosexual propaganda" while ignoring the horrific consequences Russia's anti-gay laws have had for LGBT citizens.
On January 29, Breitbart highlighted a Washington Times report on Putin's recent criticism of the U.S. for its alleged drift away from Christian principles, a rhetorical broadside fired amid the Kremlin's larger push to impose a hardline interpretation of Orthodox Christianity on Russian society. Echoing Pat Buchanan's recent assertion that "Barack Obama's America" has taken the erstwhile Soviet Union's place as the evil empire of the world, Breitbart suggested that Putin's attack on U.S. secularism indicated that Russia and the U.S. had switched places (emphasis added):
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the West, including the United States, for eschewing Christian values and opting instead for a "path to degradation."
In his State of the Nation speech last month, Putin asserted that, "Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values... Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan." Russia has adopted new laws that ban homosexual propaganda and criminalizes the insulting of religious sensibilities.
The law on religious sensibilities was approved in the wake of a protest in Moscow's largest cathedral by a female punk rock group, Pussy Riot. State-run television said the group's "demonic" protest was funded by "some Americans." Russia's newfound embrace of traditional values has prompted a rise in Orthodox vigilantism. Extreme groups such as the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, an ultraconservative faction who adopted a slogan "Orthodoxy or Death," are gaining prominence.
It was not that long ago that the United States was accusing Russia for being a "godless nation."
Breitbart went on to recite the Soviet Union's history of anti-Christian persecution. What the website seemed less interested in exploring was the persecution resulting from the country's crackdown on LGBT people and their allies. The "homosexual propaganda" ban Breitbart referred to could encompass positive depictions of LGBT people, displaying the rainbow flag, public displays of affection by same-sex couples, and even coming out as LGBT. Harrowing reports reveal how state-sanctioned homophobia has fueled a climate of increased anti-LGBT violence and vigilantism.
Breitbart, however, is more likely to cheer on the Kremlin's assault on LGBT human rights than to lay bare its terrifying consequences. The website's Austin Ruse has firmly established himself as one of the crackdown's foremost American conservative defenders, claiming that Russia's anti-gay laws are vital to "human rights" and protecting "the innocence of children." According to Ruse, Russia's persecution of gay people is part of a laudable effort to "resist ... the political movement to regularize and even celebrate" homosexuality.
With its latest report on "Russia's newfound embrace of traditional values," Breitbart has once again adopted language that sounds no different than that employed by the Kremlin to defend its war on LGBT human rights. Such whitewashing provides media organizations an example of what to avoid as they train their focus on Russia in the coming month.